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Dismantling Obsolete Missiles in South Asia

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By Sannia Abdullah and Abhijit Iyer-Mitra *

South Asia has a history of protracted conflict, arms buildup, and deadlocked dialogue leading to an atmosphere of mistrust and strategic anxiety. The geographical proximity of India and Pakistan increases the risk of an inadvertent catastrophic escalation due to miscommunication, false alarm or accident. A group of young security analysts, which we were part of, met in Sofia, Bulgaria to explore new ideas for confidence building measures (CBMs) suggested by Brigadiers (retired) Feroz Hassan Khan, from Pakistan, and Gurmeet Kanwal from India and members of the Colombo Confidence Building Process Group.

Such an accidental catastrophic war is a real possibility in South Asia with reports of increased nuclear alert in previous conflicts. Suppose that, during a time of increased political tensions, an aging missile accidentally detonates, setting off a chain reaction of misinterpretation that ultimately leads that country’s leadership to believe a preemptive attack has occurred. Such a possibility is not only unsettling but it is also destabilizing.

Both countries have missiles (the Hatf-1 in the case of Pakistan, and the Prithvi-1 for India) that are at or nearing the end of their operational lifetimes. Dismantling missiles that have been unilaterally declared as redundant, obsolete and retired is a usual practice followed by nations once more advanced systems are developed and operational. In their article, the two Brigadiers suggested making a ‘virtue out of necessity’: the transparent, parallel dismantlement of obsolete ballistic missiles. But some have worried that any sort of transparency would be too revealing; sensitive information about technology or operational details would be seen that should not be. This is what our group went to Bulgaria to test.

For a week, our group of young Pakistani and Indian security analysts met at the National Museum of Military History, where they have real missiles with striking similarities to the ones in South Asia, to design and test the so-called “modalities”—the actual procedures used—of a variety of transparency measures. Could we design procedures that would prevent the “loss” of sensitive information while still communicating enough to impart confidence? We divided into two teams to find out.

We tried a number of possible transparency measures, ranging from simply exchanging photographs of the missiles to be dismantled to conducting exchanges of “managed-access” visits to each other’s missile sites.

The first test was simply to take a series of photographs of the missile and email them to the other team. Remembering that building confidence is a lot different than verification, we realized that quite a bit of confidence could be instilled by simply photographing things like missile serial numbers as well as wide-angle views of the entire missile before and after its dismantlement. A CBM partner does not have to see everything about a missile or its environment to know it is real and that it has been dismantled. Sensitive technologies can be masked off or the view of the camera can be arranged so the image does not show what you do not want it to show.

We then explored more complex confidence building measures including the exchange of visits to a missile site. Such measures are, of course, inherently more intrusive but here too we discovered that steps could be taken to manage the visit and control what information might be seen by the visitors. A documentary, at the top of this post, was made of our experience so other young Indians and Pakistanis can see it is possible for our two peoples to work together to overcome these issues.

Of course, it is important to emphasize that what we did was explore the methodologies our two countries could use to identify any problems with a potential CMB. Our governments, if they agree that there are benefits to such CBMs, will need to decide for themselves which missiles—if any—are obsolete and which CBMs to use. We have, however, pointed the ways that could be used to identify any issues and overcome them.

And we had a lot of fun while doing it!!

[Source: Arms Control Wonk]

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